New data on, appropriately, Darwin’s Finches, in the Galapagos, show definitively that new species can arise in as little as two generations. Closer to home, studies show that this lovely species, the Goldfinch, is evolving longer bills. This is thought to be an adaptation to garden feeders, which they increasingly visit- we have a small charm every day at present. Males already have longer bills than females, enabling them to obtain seeds from Teasels. Conditions: Cold, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 6- Min -1C.
The Oak Marble Gall, produced by one of 30 UK Oak Gall Wasp species, arrived here from the Middle East in the 1800’s. Still be seen on Oaks now, they have a small hole where the gall wasp has emerged in autumn. Rich in Tannic Acid, ink made from the Oak Marble Gall has been used since the middle ages, on many ancient documents- traces have been found on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first recipe was given by the Roman, Pliny the Elder. The ink has long been superseded as it fades and can damage the page.
Just a reminder that Honey Bees, and a few butterflies, including Red Admiral, do not hibernate but slow their bodies down and emerge whenever the temperature is around 10C or more, throughout winter, to top up their food supplies. These recent photo’s emphasise again just how important winter sources of pollen and nectar are for these insects- Ivy is one of the best, as these Honey Bees
show. Conditions: Cool and sunny after high winds and rain. Temperature: Max 9- Min 3C.
Now most leaves have dropped, and the weather is getting colder, the Goldcrest reappears, or at least gets more visible, in our garden. The UK’s smallest bird, weighing the same as a 20 pence piece, this insect-eater will struggle to find enough food in daylight hours for the next few months, but that means it will sometimes come to a birdtable for fat, or search your plants for tiny insects, so keep your eyes peeled- it is the easiest time to spot them. Conditions: Cloudy with some rain. Temperature: Max 13- Min 11C.
Hollow Lanes (Sunken Lanes) are great local ecosystems and this is a personal favourite. I was walking Freckley Hollow in Catsfield, Sussex recently, marvelling at the rich habitat in this shady Hollow. The ancient lanes are created over hundreds of years of use by people and horse-drawn vehicles, and sometimes the erosion is increased by water-flow. Freckley Hollow, (Freckley may come from the dappled light that sifts through this half-mile hollow lane), a track in the midst of previous iron-working, brick-making and heavy farming use follows ancient boundaries and would have been progressively eroded until its surface was tarmaced. Conditions: Sunny spells, mild. Temperature: Max 10- Min 9C.
eroded until roads were tarmaced.
As colder times rapidly reduce the availability of insects and invertebrates for food, many birds turn to seeds, nuts and berries to stay alive. Many plants have developed a strong interdependence with birds. Juniper seeds, an endangered wild plant in the UK, actually germinate better after passing through a bird’s gut. Jays gather and hide as many as 5,000 acorns a year per bird, to retrieve later when food s scarce. They can carry 9 in their crop in one sortie! The fact that they do not retrieve them all means Oak trees are able to germinate away from the parent Oak. Conditions: low cloud and drizzle down south. Temperature: Max 10, Min 6C
Robins are one of our few birds that sing virtually all year round, ceasing only for a while in late summer, when they are moulting and have compromised ability to fly. Then they are vulnerable, tending to hide most of the day. They sing all year to guard and hold their territories. The song is thinner and reedier in winter, but still beautiful. One has been singing from dawn till dusk from a singing post in a tree planted deliberately near our window, flying off to feed and to chase other Robins, but returning to proclaim its territory. It goes very well with the fiery red leaves of our Rowan Joseph Rock. Conditions: Sunny and cool. Temperature: Max 10- Min 8C.